India journal–parental love


I was sharing with a group of pastors this morning.  These men (and one lady) live in a different world from me.  I wanted to be an encouragement to them, and to let them know that people are praying for them, and want to know more about them so that they can pray. But I did not know how to connect with them. I spoke of a young mother in Georgia (for example).  I described how she has very little money, and very little time, but she wants to spend some of that time praying for them.

I asked them if they were parents, and most raised their hands confirming that they were.  I told them that parenthood is an opportunity that God gives us to display his kind of love – a selfless, sacrificing love, where the needs of children are put before those of the parents.  I shared from John 15:17 that Jesus commands us to have that kind of love for each other. I could tell from their eyes that the message was getting through.  It is a challenge to love people like that, but that is what Jesus wants of us.


Later this afternoon, Ernie and I got to see God’s kind of love demonstrated to kids who had no parents.  We visited the Shelter Trust orphanage where over 30 young children are cared for.  These kids have lost their parents to AIDS, and are HIV positive themselves.  Solomon, the manager of Shelter Trust says that the team of workers seek to provide these children with three things: love, laughter, and life. 


The success can be seen in the smiles of these wonderful kids, and their drive to succeed in whatever they do.  These kids are living the miracle of a life with a purpose.  They are not letting their problems keep them from enjoying life, and that joy is actually prolonging their lives.  Solomon shared that one of the needs of Shelter Trust is a new place to house their older boys, who, at age 17 will no longer be allowed by the Indian government to live with the other orphans.  When Shelter Trust originally began the orphanage, they didn’t imagine that any of the children would live that long. Now they have four or five boys who will soon be 17.


Solomon gave us a tour of the orphanage, including the rooms for the kids.  They were small rooms with no furniture, except for shelves where the kids’ belongings were stored.  We saw none of the high-priced toys that kids in some parts of the world think they need to be happy.  But what we did see is that the staff and volunteers selflessly sacrificed to give these kids parents who love them.  The kids have quality life, and have been introduced to Christ so that they can have the hope of eternal life. Kids need that – and so do their parents.

India Journal–smiling faces


We went on a long road trip today.  From Chennai south to Sankarapuram and back (304 miles).  I saw lots of things that I was familiar with, because much of the terrain and buildings and traffic reminded me of travels during my years in the Philippines.  The colorful Hindu shrines were an obvious difference, and I did not see one basketball court.  So, no, it was not in the Philippines.

IMG_0724 We stopped along the way for some traditional Indian coffee, and Immanuel showed me how it is cooled for drinking.  It was surprisingly refreshing, considering the fact that it is served piping hot, in 80+ degree weather.  I could definitely develop a habit on that stuff.


IMG_0779The highlight (and purpose) of our trip was a visit to Christ Special High School in Sankarapuram, a special school for disabled children and children from single-parent families. The campus is clean and simple, with not a lot of fancy adornment. But it is decorated with the smiling faces of (currently) about 100 wonderful kids.  The atmosphere changed as soon as we saw those children.  All those miles were worth it.



We had just arrived when some of the girls wanted to show us the craft projects they were working on.  There was little shyness here.  The kids wanted to get to know us, and they seemed genuinely happy that we had visited.  It was hard not to fall in love with them.



There were smiles, songs, and dances as the kids put on a special program for us.  We exchanged gifts, greeted one another, and prayed.  We especially thanked God for the gifted teachers who have been giving of themselves to allow these kids to have a chance at a better life.



I appreciated meeting with pastor Paul Nilavan. It was impressive to see a man give so much of himself for the ministry, and sacrifice without complaining.  Since 1993, this school has been making a difference in children’s’ lives, and providing a better future for the community.  People like Paul and the other members of his team have been taking the hurting and helpless and putting smiles on their faces.

India journal – encouragement


We have had a long day of meetings, and a trip into the heart of the city of Chennai.  I came to India to learn more about the missions, schools, orphanages and other such ministries my organization is currently helping to support.  I also wanted to be an encouragement to the workers, many of whom are toiling long hours in difficult situations with little or no contact with the people who have been praying for them.  I wanted to be a face to the “we’re praying for you” message that these good people have been hearing. Please pray that I fulfill that mission of encouragement.

Today I was given more encouragement than I gave.  I saw first-hand some men of God who are pouring their lives into ministry and making a difference.  Let me highlight two such men:

M. M. Immanuel is one of those people who is always doing something.  He and his cellphone are constantly connected.  He’s the man many of us come to for answers, particularly when the questions are hard.  Immanuel does not always tell us what we want to hear, but he has the courage to tell us the truth we need to hear.  We thank the LORD for him.  Please hold this servant up in prayer.

Ravi Paul is one of the more enigmatic characters I have met today.  He is an impressive lawyer with an analytical mind and a reserved composure.  Yet underneath his calm is a man passionate about the gospel.  When he told us about the ministry his church is doing among the slum residents in his area, you could hear that passion.  They are helping to transform entire communities by giving young people a help out of the trap of poverty, not by just giving away food or money, but by assisting in their education.  Their church provides a place for young people to study, and covenants with parents to keep distractions away so that the students can succeed.  It is working. Already several of the youth have obtained good jobs and are on their way to a future that would have been much different if it weren’t for people like Ravi.  Join me in thanking the LORD for Ravi, and pray that he continues to display integrity in a profession that is often type-casted for the lack of it.

exchanging this world for heaven


A friend recently posted a quote from Dave Hunt, who said:

“The choice we face is not, as many imagine, between heaven and hell.  Rather, the choice is between heaven and this world.  Even a fool would exchange hell for heaven; but only the wise will exchange this world for heaven.” – An Urgent Call To A Serious faith.

Hunt stated in another book:

“The real choice we must and do make – daily, hourly – is between heaven and this earth. … Our attitudes and actions continually reflect our unconscious answer to the question: ‘Am I willing to leave this earth right now for heaven, or is there something that holds me here and thus something on earth which stands between my Lord and me at this moment?’” – When Will Jesus Come, p. 250.

My response to that FB post will be perhaps confusing to my many friends who are not aware of my conditionalist theological position:

“This world is the place that Jesus died to redeem. This world is the place where Jesus is coming (from heaven) to rule. This world is the place that God and believers will inherit (Psalm 82:8; Matthew 5:5). The gospel is not a call for us to exchange the world for heaven. It is a call for us to accept the grace of the one who is coming from heaven to earth. A serious faith takes the Bible seriously. While Christians are called not to love the present world or the things in it (1 John 2:15), we are never called to escape it. We are called to conquer it (1 John 5:4).”

There is a difference between setting our affections on things above and setting our hopes on leaving the earth. Hunt and many others of the traditionalist view seek to blur that distinction.  They believe that the hope of the believer is to go somewhere else besides earth and be with God when they die. 

This is the Bible’s definition of the blessed hope:

“waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13 ESV).

When people imply that the hope of believers is going to heaven when they die, they are exchanging the biblical hope for something else.  Some have been so conditioned to believe that the goal of believers is to go to heaven that they never see the contradiction when they look at biblical texts.

What are you waiting for?  Are you waiting to die so that you can see Jesus in heaven, or are you waiting for the appearing of Christ on earth?  If you think your goal is to escape earth, why do you think that?  I challenge you to read the Bible again, and look for the hope and the inheritance it describes.  The only thing the Bible calls us to escape is hell.  We are called not to escape the world, but to conquer the world for Christ:

“…whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith” (1 John 5:4 NRSV).

You do not conquer something by running away from it, but by doing battle, defeating it, and claiming it for your king.  That is what conquerors do.  They overcome in battle, and claim new territory.  Biblical faith does not urge believers to want to die so that the battle will be over.  Biblical faith challenges believers to take this world back for the king it rightfully belongs to. 

When human beings were placed on this earth, God did not say, “It’s OK for a while, but what I really want is for you to be in heaven with me.” No, he looked on the two people in Eden and said that it was very good.  He called on them not to escape the earth but to have dominion over it, to fill it, and to subdue it (Genesis 1:26-28).  He never rescinded that command.

When Jesus taught his disciples about things to come, he promised them the Holy Spirit from heaven (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7, and he promised that he would return from heaven (Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26-27; John 14:3). He never once promised them a trip to heaven before he returned. Why would he leave that out?

What Jesus promised us was a resurrection on the last day – the day of his return:

“And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39 ESV).

“ For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day”(John 6:40 ESV).

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day(John 6:44 ESV).

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:54 ESV).

Our king Jesus is the only human being who has ascended to heaven right now:

“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13 ESV).

The only biblical hope is that he will return to take his rightful place on this earth as its king.  It sounds right and biblical to talk about exchanging this world for heaven, but it is neither. The world is looking for answers.  The least we believers can do is get the answers right.





ACST 57: The Transformed

SDC10061The author of Hebrews identifies the church as a people caught up in what God is doing. At first, the prophets spoke of Jesus in the Old Testament, then Jesus fulfilled what they predicted, then the apostles and other early believers attested to that truth. Finally, God has continued the testimony through the church, verifying our words “by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”[1]

Just how does the Holy Spirit verify the gospel we preach? There are at least three ways: 1) He transforms us into the image of Christ, 2) He brings about new growth in the church by helping us reach people with the gospel, 3) He breaks through the normal issues of life and manifests supernatural interference – i.e., miracles.

new people

When the religious traditionalists of Jesus’ day complained that his disciples did thing differently that theirs, Jesus responded to their complaint. He implied that we should expect his church to be different. Believers in Christ were “new wine” and cannot be contained in the “old wineskins.”[2] If anyone dared to put new wine in a wineskin that had been previously expanded, it would expand again, and he would have a mess to clean up. That is why those who make wine start afresh with a new skin. That is what God has done.

It is true that there is continuity between ancient Judaism and Christianity. Most of our biblical content is the same. Most of the spiritual principles taught in the New Testament have their origin in the Old Testament. But the questions asked in the Old Testament which had no answer are answered in the New Testament. In many cases, the Old Testament testified to a “what” but did not prescribe “how.” The New Testament fills in its blanks.

One of those all-important “whats” is the concept of the new covenant. Jeremiah predicted this:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD,

when I will make a new covenant with the house

of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the

covenant that I made with their fathers on the day

when I took them by the hand to bring them out of

the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke,

though I was their husband, declares the LORD.

33 But this is the covenant that I will make with

the house of Israel after those days, declares the

LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will

write it on their hearts. And I will be their God,

and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer

shall each one teach his neighbor and each his

brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall

all know me, from the least of them to the

greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive

their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no


The old covenant was the result of God’s grace rescuing his people from Egypt, and leading them to a new life governed by his laws in the promised land. There was a time when that was the new covenant. It promised the newness of freedom rather than the oldness of slavery. Yet, following it proved to be problematic. It can be stated in this way: if God’s people will follow his laws, he will keep them free and give them new hearts. We all know what happened. The people of Israel as a whole never got to the “new hearts” part.

The new covenant would reverse the process. It would be the work of the Holy Spirit, who would first write God’s laws on the hearts of the forgiven, enabling them to know him. Then, he would bring them to their new land. Instead of being attested to by the sacrifice of a lamb, this new covenant would begin with the death of Christ on a cross.[4] Once initiated, the new covenant was meant to replace the old one, making its provisions obsolete.[5] There was nothing wrong with the old covenant, except that it only offered a temporary inheritance. It was designed to point us all to the new covenant, which promises an “eternal inheritance.”[6]

It is in that sense that the church today can be called the new Israel. God’s new covenant with Israel is not intended to add to one nation but to multiply through all nations. The blessing of faith that Abraham manifested is now possible for all of those who believe in Christ, no matter who they descended from. Rights to that new covenant were purchased for all through the blood of Christ.

Just as people served under the old covenant, we also serve under the new covenant. The difference is “that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”[7] We begin with grace and we end with glory. If we attempt to get to the glory by means of keeping the law, we will fail. But if we dare to walk by the same Holy Spirit who has regenerated us, we can become like Christ. We can give others a taste of that new wine.

new growth

There was a missions aspect of the old covenant. People were supposed to be drawn to God by seeing his blessings and glory manifested in loyal Israel. God wanted Abraham’s faith to result in blessings for all the nations surrounding Israel.[8] The surrounding nations were blessed occasionally, but the process was often overshadowed by the opposite affect: people ridiculing God because of the sufferings and disloyalty of Israel.

Missions was built into the DNA of the new covenant. Jesus commanded his church to make disciples of all nations,[9] to proclaim the gospel to all nations,[10] to offer repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations.[11] If the old covenant could be described as “come to us,” the new covenant is best described as “go to them.” In the Great Commission text, the participle “go” does not have the same weight as the imperative “make disciples.” However, the fact that Jesus was sending his disciples somewhere (in actuality, Jerusalem) was significant. It set the stage for a church that would always be going with the gospel.[12]

That role of expanding ourselves through reaching new lands and cultures with the gospel is also described by Jesus in his “vine and branches” message. He told his disciples “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.”[13] Jesus did not simply command us to stay where we are and bear fruit. He appointed us to “go” and “bear fruit.” The word translated “go” in that text is not the same word used in Matthew 28. It is the word used for sending someone off in a particular direction for a particular purpose. The mission of reaching new lands, peoples, and cultures with the gospel is built into our new identity as branches of Christ’s vine.

The church is made of people who have found the greatest thing that could ever be found. It is therefore no surprise when we selflessly abandon all that we have for that treasure. As Jesus put it, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”[14] Here again, the words “he goes” are a form of that same mission we were appointed to by Jesus. However, the motivation for our mission is made clear in this text: “in his joy.” The church expands and permeates not because we are bound by some solemn obligation. We have good news to share with the nations. We go in our joy.

The cultural mandate is also part of our great commission mandate. Jesus told the rich young ruler to “go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”[15] Some people will never be able to come to Jesus because they will always refuse to go away from their possessions. The rich young ruler went away sad and unchanged, because what he had was more important to him than what he could gain in Christ. There are some people who are like this with their homes and families. They will not come to Christ because Christ would require that they give up life in their comfort zone.

For believers in Christ, what we have now is his to give away through us. We embrace the cultural mandate to bless the nations with food, clothing, and other things they need. We do not see this as something separate from spreading the gospel. It is a way of our divesting ourselves of that which is superfluous in our lives so that we can share him. It is also something that brings us joy. We can either give as Christ compels us, and gain joy in doing so, or we will “go away sad” as this young man did.

The mission to go does not always mean to cross geographical boundaries. Sometimes we want to go away and the LORD calls us to go home. The delivered Gerasene wanted to hop in the boat and go away with Jesus and the other disciples. Jesus would not allow him to do so. Instead he said “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”[16] Sometimes abiding in the Vine means abiding in your own hometown. It is still a mission, when it is responding to the “go” from the Master. It is still a mission when its end result is more people in the kingdom.

new normal

The new people that is the church of Jesus Christ is a people born of the Spirit,[17] having the firstfruits of the Spirit,[18] set free by the law of the Spirit,[19] and setting their minds on the things of the Spirit.[20] Outwardly, they still look like they did when they were merely of the flesh, but inwardly, they have undergone a transformation. Normal is no longer what it was. There is a new normal, because everything believers think and do is now judged by a new standard: the image of Christ within. People without the experience of regeneration cannot understand this new disposition. The things of the Holy Spirit are foolishness to them.[21]

That original disposition toward exalting and caring for the body of flesh has now been – not removed – but challenged. Believers still want to be preserved from death and hunger and the like, but they also have a strong desire to care for and promote the welfare of Christ’s body, which they are now a part of. Just one look into the eyes of Jesus makes the born again person want to be like him, to introduce others to him, and to experience his power. The Holy Spirit inside believers wants our sanctification, our involvement in evangelism, and our experience and demonstration of his miracles.

The Holy Spirit is an amazing person. Although fully equal to the Father and Son in deity, he seeks to manifest himself through mortal and imperfect human beings. He is both the key to unity in the church, and the reason for our glorious diversity. He embraces our differences, and instead of causing us to suppress them, he utilizes those differences to mature us, and to reach the most with the gospel. Any time the church seeks too zealously to manufacture an artificial unity, we tend to squelch the Holy Spirit’s work. He is too big to fit within our carefully constructed labels.

The Holy Spirit works within each believer individually, and wants to manifest his power through each believer “for the common good.”[22] He makes each believer a gift to the group as a whole, by ministering his spiritual gifts, and manifesting his spiritual fruit. He is the author of supernatural miracles, transformed character, and church growth. Church traditions tend to push cooperation with him in one area or the other, but he seeks all three at the same time. To put it negatively, a believer has not yielded to the Holy Spirit unless she is willing to let him manifest his power in her life through miracles, renewed holiness, and outreach.

The Spirit and the word

The word of God is the Spirit’s weapon – the sword of the Spirit.[23] Those who hear and believe the word are sealed with the Holy Spirit.[24] He uses the written and spoken word to accomplish his purposes in and with the church. He uses the Scriptures to catch us, change us, turn us into evangelists, and give us faith to receive his miracles. Theoretically, one might say that the word alone is powerless to do anything. For example, demons laugh when unbelievers attempt, apart from the Holy Spirit, to use texts from the Bible as some sort of animistic charm to ward off evil. In the church’s hands, however, the word is backed by the power of the Holy Spirit. In that case, the word is anything but powerless.

Prayer and the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is also the key person in the prayer ministry of the church. Paul encouraged believers to pray at all times, but added the explanatory phrase “in the Spirit.”[25] The prayers of unbelievers are always heard by God, but the church’s prayers are actually sponsored by God. When we pray in the Spirit, we are praying words which are not just intended to reach the throne, but words which actually originate there. Prayer by believers is cooperation with God and affirmation of what he is doing and wants to do.

Refusing to pray leads to powerless people, limited growth, and hardened hearts in the church. A church can have all the right theology of the Holy Spirit in their creeds, but if they do not pray, those words are empty. The act of prayer substantiates what a person or group believes about the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Holy Spirit is so eager to touch this world with manifestations of himself, he often uses praying people who have seriously defective theologies. This happens to the shame of many more “orthodox” churches, because they do not pray as they aught.

Worship and the Holy Spirit

One of the ways that the Holy Spirit speaks to believers, and through them, is the act of corporate worship. He is the means by which we manifest authentic worship: it is by the Spirit.[26] The apostle Paul taught that the true circumcision – that which really matters – is that which is done by the Holy Spirit, and it results in praise from God.[27] The text is a bit ambiguous about whether that praise is being received by the true Jew, or given by him. It could be interpreted either way, because God honors authenticity, and authentic people give authentic worship.

One of the Old Testament predictions about life under the new covenant is that believers would be characterized by gladness and joy instead of sadness and sorrow.[28] When the church worships, we celebrate the reality of this age of grace, and our new status as part of that reality. Worship flows from who we are, who Christ is, and what our future is because of what Christ did. The Holy Spirit within us serves as our guarantee of this future inheritance.[29] No matter what might distract us in the present, he helps us remember what we were made for – glorifying, enjoying, and worshipping God throughout eternity. While we are worshipping, we are more in touch with who we truly are and will be than at any other time.

Recognizing the Holy Spirit

Jesus is the only person of the Holy Trinity who can be seen in bodily form, because he is the only one who has taken on flesh. If one wants to look for the Holy Spirit, one has to look for the evidence. If you want to see the wind, you look for open sails and fast moving sailboats. If you want to see the Holy Spirit, you look for growing, maturing, gift-manifesting churches. The transformed church is his calling-card.

[1] Hebrews 2:4 ESV.

[2] Matthew 9:17.

[3] Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV.

[4] Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25.

[5] Hebrews 8:8-13.

[6] Hebrews 9:15.

[7] Romans 7:6 ESV.

[8] Genesis 18:18; 22:18; 26:4.

[9] Matthew 28:19.

[10] Mark 13:10.

[11] Luke 24:47.

[12] When Jesus gave his Great Commission, it was to the eleven in Galilee, just before they were to return to Jerusalem. It would make sense to take the participle of poreuomai (go) as adverbial of time, which would result in Jesus telling them that after they go (to Jerusalem) they were to make disciples. Translators usually take the participle as having a practically equal status with the imperative (matheteusate from matheteuo) in that text. Each case when Matthew uses the aorist participle of pereuomai with an accompanying verb, the stress is on the action of that accompanying verb. See Matthew 2:8; 9:13; 11:4; 21:6; 27:66. The command in Matthew 28:18 is to make disciples. Going places is incidental, but necessary to obeying that command.

[13] John 15:16.

[14] Matthew 13:44 ESV.

[15] Matthew 19:21 ESV.

[16] Mark 5:19 ESV.

[17] John 3:5-8.

[18] Romans 8:23.

[19] Romans 8:2.

[20] Romans 8:5.

[21] 1 Corinthians 2:14.

[22] 1 Corinthians 12:7.

[23] Ephesians 6:17.

[24] Ephesians 1:13.

[25] Ephesians 6:18.

[26] Philippians 3:3.

[27] Romans 2:29.

[28] Isaiah 61:3.

[29] 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14.